Conference Loyalty Programs: The Perks of Earning Points

Research shows that Americans love loyalty programs, which means that your conference attendees and exhibitors do too. Some ideas on how to start rewarding your loyal customers.

Who doesn’t like free or discounted things? I am always excited to earn a free drink at Starbucks, or that CVS coupon, or that hotel stay that satisfies my itch to get out of the city for a long weekend.

Whether they reap airline miles or other rewards, Americans love loyalty programs. The 2015 Loyalty Census revealed that U.S. households hold memberships in 29 loyalty programs spread among the retail, financial services, travel, and other sectors—and are considered active in 12 of them.

And the organizations and retailers behind them love them, too. Last year, research from Accenture Interactive showed that “members of retailers’ customer-loyalty programs generate between 12 percent and 18 percent more revenue for retailers than do customers who are not members of the loyalty programs.”

With those stats in mind, consider the potential of a loyalty program centered on your association’s conferences and meetings.

Attendee Benefits

The first group that can benefit from such a program is attendees. It could be as simple as offering a discount to those people who have attended a particular meeting for five or 10 years in a row. Not only is a discount a win for an attendee’s wallet, but it is also a win for your association in that it shows you are recognizing a loyal participant.

The Academy of Neonatal Nursing has its own conference loyalty program. Any ANN member who attends any combination of three consecutive conferences receives free tuition to the main conference sessions of the fourth conference they attend.

Even better is that ANN makes it easy: Attendees are automatically enrolled in the program after attending one conference, and it does not require any recordkeeping on their part.

A more complex rewards system could give attendees points based on actions they take (attend a conference, submit a session proposal, present at a conference, serve as a conference buddy, and so on). The points, which would accumulate over the course of a year, could then be redeemed for registration discounts or other perks.

The Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association does something like this with its Participation Rewards Program. Members earn three points for serving as a conference moderator or five for teaching a HEDNA U session. Points can then be redeemed for complimentary attendance at various HEDNA events. For example, 100 points earns free registration to its Global Distribution Conference.

Exhibitor Perks

You don’t have to limit rewards to attendees. Some associations also offer loyalty programs to exhibitors.

Often the incentive for exhibitor participation is that the points they accrue determine their spot in the booth-space selection process for the next year’s expo. In other words, the more points they have, the better their spot in line.

RIMS—The Risk Management Society introduced a new priority points system for exhibitors at its upcoming annual conference.

Points are earned based on seven factors that include exhibiting at the previous year’s event, booth size, longevity, and total event spend. (A PowerPoint presentation on this page breaks down all the details.)

Also worth noting is that points can be lost if companies violate exhibitor rules. A violation of the mailing list agreement results in a 20-point deduction, while hosting a competing offsite event will zero out a company’s points.

Conference loyalty programs—whether geared toward exhibitors or attendees—benefit associations too. They recognize your most engaged participants, and they may encourage attendees and exhibitors to maintain a closer connection to your association throughout the year.

Say, for example, a member is three points away from achieving “gold status.” She may decide to register for a webinar or a one-day conference to reach that level. Same goes for exhibitors: A loyalty program could push them to book booth space or a tabletop at one of your smaller events.

How does your association reward its most loyal attendees and exhibitors? What has  been the benefit to the organization? Let us know in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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